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Federal agencies spend billions of dollars each year to develop, acquire, and build major systems, facilities, and equipment, including fighter aircraft, nuclear waste treatment facilities, electronic baggage screening equipment, and telescopes for exploring the universe. Managing these complex acquisitions has been a long-standing challenge for federal agencies. Many of the governments most costly and complex acquisition efforts require the development of cutting-edge technologies and their integration into large and complex systems. Such acquisition efforts may also use existing technologies, but in new applications or environments.
For more than a decade, GAO has reported that using effective management practices and processes to assess how far a technology has matured and how it has been demonstrated are keys to evaluating its readiness to be integrated into a system and managed for risk in the federal government's major acquisitions. A technology readiness assessment (TRA) is a systematic, evidence-based process that evaluates the maturity of hardware and software technologies critical to the performance of a larger system or the fulfillment of the key objectives of an acquisition program. TRAs, which measure the technical maturity of a technology or system at a specific point in time, do not eliminate technology risk, but when done well, can illuminate concerns and serve as the basis for realistic discussions on how to mitigate potential risks as programs move from the early stages of technology development, where resource requirements are relatively modest, to system development and beyond, where resource requirements are often substantial.
This TRA Guide is a companion to GAO's Cost Estimating and Assessment Guide (GAO-09-3SP) and GAO's Schedule Assessment Guide (GAO-16-89G). With this Guide, GAO intends to establish a methodology based on best practices that can be used across the federal government for evaluating technology maturity, particularly as it relates to determining a program or project's readiness to move past key decision points that typically coincide with major commitments of resources. Similar assessments can be made by technologists and program managers as knowledge-building exercises during the course of a project to help them evaluate technology maturity, gauge progress, and identify and manage risk.
The Guide is intended to provide TRA practitioners, program and technology managers, and governance bodies throughout the federal government a framework for better understanding technology maturity, conducting credible technology readiness assessments, and developing plans for technology maturation efforts. Organizations that have developed their own guidance can use the Guide to support and supplement their practices. Organizations that have not yet developed their own policies can use it to begin establishing their own guidance. As a companion to GAO's cost and schedule assessment guides, this Guide can also help GAO and other oversight organizations evaluate agencies' basis for their conclusions and decisions about technology readiness.
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